Looking back as curtains close on Adelaide Cabaret Festival

As the Adelaide Cabaret Festival comes to a close, performers and guests alike reflect on how far the festival has come since its 2001 arrival, and what the future might hold for 2022. (Image source: Adelaide Cabaret Festival gallery)

By Rylee Cooper | RyleeCooper5

The beginning

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival emerged following the 1990s, when big-stage musicals were in decline across the country and work was difficult to find for performers. During this time, the Fringe program was experiencing a flood of comedians, who were stopping en route to the Melbourne Comedy Festival. These comedians outshined and outnumbered new musical talent, dwindling the numbers of musical theatre performers further.

Artist Frank Ford approached then Arts Minister Diana Laidlaw with the idea of the Cabaret Festival, which was funded to establish the first festival in the streets of Adelaide in 2001.

Following the success of the 2001 festival, which headlined Australian Jazz maestro James Morrison, Phil Scott and Caroline O’Connor, the state government committed a further three years of funding to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

The following year, the festival drew 48 thousand attendees.

The impact of COVID-19

In 2020, when the coronavirus was taking centre stage, the festival was presented online only, adding to the pile of arts and recreation businesses who were affected by the virus.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in April 2020, only 47% of arts and recreation businesses remained trading during this time.

Then Adelaide Cabaret Festival Artistic Director, Julia Zemiro, said she was saddened by the cancellation of the festival.

“This is truly one of those moments for me where you realise how you take things for granted. Like putting on a show, inviting people along and raising a glass,” she said.

Current Artistic Director Alan Cumming said that “suddenly all the goalposts were changed” when the coronavirus hit.

“I was in zoom meetings discussing venue cleaning turnaround times and hotel quarantine budgets…[it] forced me to really think what it was I wanted to do as Artistic Director.”

2021 festival success

However, the Festival survived 2020 – drawing in more than 85 thousand engagements across their social media channels – and came back in 2021 better than ever, with a focus on delivering a “smorgasbord of emotions and genres and forms that cabaret truly can be and turning the spotlight back onto Australian talent.”

This year was a standout in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s history as it gave the opportunity for “the form of cabaret to show how brilliant and vital it can be and how needed it is in times of crisis, like the one we’re going through in the world right now,” Mr Cumming said.

“When you look at history, the form of cabaret has always been at the forefront of agitation and provocation. It’s always been the first thing, actually, that dictators try to shut down because they understand how powerful it can be.”

This year’s festival offered a true smorgasbord of theatrical delights, some of the highlights coming in the form of The Variety Gala – the opening act that offers a taste of the whole festival in one show. Similarly, acts such as Eddie Perfect’s Introspective and L’Hotel in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Space Theatre received glowing reviews.

It certainly looks like the Cabaret Festival is recovering from its hit in 2020 and is optimistic for a 2022 return with iconic singer-songwriter Tina Arena taking over the role of artistic director.

“I am so looking forward to getting stuck into programming next year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival as Artistic Director and working with some incredible artists I’ve come to know, love and respect,” Ms Arena said.

“Performing is my lifeblood, I love to sing and connect with audiences through story-telling and the incredible power of music – to me this is at the heart of cabaret.”

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